The Seven Great Threats to the Catholic Church in Modern America

 This is the first part of an eight-part editorial series on the errors of Modernism and Post-modernism.  Both terms are used loosely and interchangeably in this article because post-modernism is the end result of the modernist cancer.  In general however, modernism is defined as the world-view that grew out of Enlightenment philosophy in the 18th century and lead to the rise of empiricism.  Post-modernism refers to the state of affairs in the late 20th century that declares Truth irrelevant and unattainable.  Post-modernism ignores religion whereas modernism actively attacks religious philosophy.

 Part I--Introduction to the Modernist Heresy: Why Modernism is Perilous

              A great heresy gnaws at the roots of the Catholic faith in America.  An insidious movement threatens to pull apart the Church from both the inside and outside.  This is the infamous heresy of modernism and its spawn, post-modernism.  It is a philosophy and way of life that threatens the Church’s very foundation by declaring it’s authority and divine constitution irrelevant.  Many Americans are unaware of the pervasive force of modernism and cannot identity the seven great errors of modernism that penetrate into the Church internally (by way of Christian Liberalism) and externally (by an agnostic, secular generation).  Without an ability to identify the errors of modernism, Christians are in danger of falling into this new and deadly heresy.  Hence, it is the purpose of this series to convince the reader of the danger and existence of modernism by pointing out the seven errors and threats of modernism in popular American culture.  In order to understand modernism it is first necessary to examine why heresies such as modernism have existed since the foundation of the Church.  Next, the danger of modernism on the Church and contemporary society must be examined.   Finally, each of the seven signs and errors of modernism will be examined so that the reader can learn to identify modernism and its effects. 

The Church has always been beset by evil and false teachings for as long as she has existed.  There are three main reasons why division and discord have always threatened (but never sapped) the foundation of the Church.  The first and primary reason is that the Church stands as a lamp set on a hill for all to see and hear.   She proclaims the message of her master, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and condemns the evils of the world while offering healing and forgiveness to all evildoers.  The visible Church’s mission of healing and teaching does not go unnoticed by the Prince of this world: the devil.  The Catholic Church stands as the ark of salvation and a very real threat to his domain.  Hence the devil attempts every kind of attack on the Church by use of external forces (violence, persecutions, and natural disasters) along with internal discord (heresies, schisms, apostasy, and temptation of the clergy and laity).  If not for Our Lord’s guarantee that the Church would never fail (Matthew 16:18), there is no way the Church’s members and hierarchy could resist the devil perpetually.  The second reason heresy and discord are always found within the Church, is that certain men find the teachings and expectations of the Church burdensome.  Very often, these men find that doing the right and moral thing is painful and often requires much suffering.  It seems easier for many people to either ignore part or all of the Church’s teachings or substitute doctrines into the Faith that are more to their liking.  Finally, the Church has always been assailed by heresy because men have often had a hard time accepting the limitations of their own nature.  Pride often besets men (especially scholars and philosophers) and convinces them that they have no intellectual limitations.  The result of intellectual pride is a continuous attempt to rationalize the mysteries of God.  Some things (such as understanding the true nature of the Trinity) are beyond the nature of man’s intelligence.  But because prideful men cannot accept that the nature and acts of the infinite God are beyond the reach of men, these philosophers either reject God or rationalize the faith to fit their human philosophies.  In the end, a fully rationalized faith has no room for miracles, the divinity of Christ or many other core tenets of the Faith.  What results from undue rationalizations are nothing less than heresies and a watered down faith.  Thus the attacks of Satan, man’s dislike of the moral life, and prideful rationalizations of Christian mysteries account for the continuing presence of false teaching in a world that has been given a divinely instituted and visible teaching Church.

  Many heresies have threatened the Catholic faith throughout the ages.  However, none are as dangerous and insidious as Modernism.  The average man in the street has very little understanding of what is meant by the term “modernism.”  As a result, modernism ought to be defined before proceeding onto a discussion of this heresy.  Some might mistakenly believe that the Church’s fight against modernism is an attack on science (the perceived Science vs. Religion debate).  This is simply not true.  For science is simply the careful, ordered observation of the material universe through the scientific method.  Observation of the material world leads to a general theory, experimentation to support the theory, and finally a practical application.  There is nothing inherently wrong with man studying the material world.  God has created the material world and declared that it is good.   That is why Catholicism does not condemn or oppose science and the study of the material.  Instead, what is meant by “modernism” is a sustained attack on the Catholic Church by way of philosophy and an agnostic world-view.  It should be noted that modernism is not a formulated, written-in-stone heresy.  Rather it is an elusive yet powerful attack on the perceived relevance of the Church. Ultimately, it leads to wholesale societal embrace of agnosticism. Modernism is best defined and understood by identifying and examining the seven errors that permeate it.  We will treat on these errors later in this series (thus solidifying our definition of modernism).  Therefore with our preliminary definition of modernism in hand, we can now analyze modernism’s danger and effect on the Church.

Modernism threatens the Church like no other heresy because modernism refuses to argue the Church’s doctrines openly and directly.  Instead, modernism attempts to sap the Church of its relevance.   Rather than attack the doctrines of God openly like previous heresies, modernism simply distracts the modern man by offering the allure of materialism. For example, instead of flatly denying the existence of God with philosophical arguments, moderns learn to embrace agnosticism by asserting that religion is not as important as other things in life like patriotism or “making a better world for our children.”  How many times have we heard someone assert that all things should be taken in moderation: especially religion?  The modern man will also learn to deny the reality of the supernatural by claiming that belief in angels and demons are superstitious, dated beliefs.  The charge of superstition is often levied on religion with little reasoning or argument from the modernist.  It is simply a blanket statement that frees the modernist from the burden of belief in angels, demons and especially the inconvenient belief in hell.   Truly, the modernist heresy is a slippery slope.  It begins with skepticism, slides into corrosion of faith, then attempts to rewrite or ignore the doctrines of Christianity, and finally ends up eliminating the worship of God and adherence to classic morality. Worst of all, modernists have the temerity to accuse Christians of holding irrational beliefs without justification while the bulk of their adherents subscribe to the agnostic world-view with little justification.  In place of Christianity it holds up noble values drained of their virtue and substance.  Freedom (from morality), tolerance (to everything but historical Christianity), and material progress become the new virtues of society. In the final analysis modernism seeks to kill the Church not by open warfare, but by drowning out her voice with the allure of hedonism, the frenetic hum of the freeways, the ring of the stock market, and the drone of the work place.  Modernism has one simple message for the Church: You do not matter. 

No other heresy has ever attacked the Church in this manner.  Protestantism, Arianism, gnosticism, and all of the rest flagrantly waged open warfare with sharpened swords and paper and pen.  The Church, the bastion of truth, was ultimately strengthened by these attacks because these heresies called forth the sharpest minds of the Church to defend the Faith. Past heretical attacks often pressed the magesterium to define the faith more clearly and lucidly.  The Arian heresy lead to the splendid Nicean creed.  Protestantism provoked the doctrinal magnificence of the Council of Trent. Past heresies have also lead to a resurgence of piety and ardor in the faithful (such as the Counter-reformation and the rise of the Jesuit missionaries after the Reformation).  Modernism is different though.  Its attempt to drain the Church of its relevance strangles the voice of the Church.  How many Americans have heard the warnings of Pope John Paul II about America’s culture of death, but failed to listen because of Catholicism’s apparent waning relevance? 

This is not to say that modernism and post-modernism is without philosophical backing.  It very often is, but the masses outside the Church and even within it become adherents to modernism not through the intellectual treatises of Hume, Nietzche and Freud, but through the pernicious distractions of materialism.  Hume could at least be argued and reasoned with; his own lack of faith was ultimately attributed to pride.   Unfortunately, our own contemporaries refuse to listen to reason at all.  After all, why listen to a preachy conservative who makes one feel guilty when there are so many more exciting things to do?  Rather than open the door to a missionary, isn’t it simpler to pretend you’re not at home?

Catholics must take heed to the effects of modernism and post-modernism.  Its effect on Americans cannot be glossed over.  We must temper our evangelization strategies with the fire of Truth, a joyful spirit, and open, caring hearts if we are to compete for the attention and respect of our fellow Americans.   Ultimately, each person hungers for Truth that can only be filled by Jesus Christ.   However, it is imperative that we avoid being judgmental, antagonistic, or frustrated lest the Gospel message perish in our faults and mistakes.  In the end, the Church’s divine foundation will prevail against the winds of the times.  But at what cost in lost souls must we pay before modernism is finally stamped out?

 --S.M. Miranda

Next week I will address the first error of modernism: the philosophy of relativism.

[ Back to the Main Page ]